Golf Carts Are Parked, Walking Is in and, Yes, It’s Exercise

A new movement is underway in recreational golf: walking.

Increasingly across the country, golfers disdain the motorized golf cart – a staple of American golf for more than 50 years – and choose to stride or stroll from shot to shot instead.

It has contributed to a significant increase in the number of rounds played and spawned another new phenomenon: the demonstrable notion that golf while walking is an exercise that can complement a fitness program, as golfers routinely burn 700 calories or more on an excursion that is being traversed can be up to six miles.

In addition, the walking boom, driven by the emergence of light, trendy carrier bags and technologically sophisticated handcarts for golf bags, is being driven by a legion of young and older players – with an increasing proportion of women – who fall back on the roots of golf as a pure running activity.

“It’s cool to go again,” said Bob Bullis, 72, who plays four times a week at the El Macero Country Club near his home in Northern California. “I am out and about with these children, I run, train well and do the sport the way it should be played.”

For decades, the stereotype of the sport has been perceived by sedentary golfers who whiz across the course in carts with cup holders full of mixed drinks. But many golfers these days are deliberately adopting a healthier, even Zen-like atmosphere.

“Walking from shot to shot for two minutes can be a peaceful meditation,” said Kevin McKinney, 51, a musician who regularly plays at the walk-only, community-owned Hancock Golf Course in Austin, Texas. “You increase your heart rate, something you don’t experience rattling around in a cart. It is a beautiful environment, if you let it be. “

When McKinney was interviewed at the Hancock course last month, he sent a reporter a picture of a man and woman playing golf while pushing a child in a stroller.

The increase in walking trails – some golf courses saw a 300 percent increase – is due to the pandemic and the impact on recreational activities.

In 2020, golf was one of the few outdoor activities considered safe from the spread of the coronavirus, and American golf courses had 50 million more rounds of golf than in 2019 physical distancing Cart use was banned and walking became commonplace, even in country clubs and resorts that once required the use of a golf cart.

“People discovered they loved walking, and even when the Covid rules were lifted this year and carts came back, people said, ‘No, we’re going to keep walking,'” said Jerramy Hainline, senior vice president of GolfNow Online tee-time service with nearly four million registered golfers providing technology to more than 9,000 golf courses. “Go is here to stay now.”

If it stays that way, recent studies advocating the health benefits of golf will shed new light. In 2018, a consortium of public health experts, assisted by several governing bodies including the World Golf Foundation, examined 342 previously published studies on the sport, linking golf to better strength and balance and a lower risk of heart disease. A 2008 Swedish study of 300,000 golfers found that the death rate among golfers is 40 percent lower than other people of the same sex, age, and socioeconomic status, resulting in a five-year increase in life expectancy. Golfers with lower handicaps were the healthiest, perhaps because they played more.

But the most fascinating and enduring study of golf’s credibility as worthy, moderate exercise was conducted 13 years ago by Neil Wolkodoff, director of the Colorado Center for Health and Sport Science. For $ 30,000, Wolkodoff buckled amateur golfers on portable metabolism monitors to count calories burned while playing nine holes in a variety of ways: walking and carrying clubs, walking with a pushed or pulled cart that carries their clubs, walking with a caddy and ride in a cart.

It was no surprise that golfers walking across the typical hilly topography of a golf course and carrying their bags consumed the most energy, burning an average of 721 calories. Walking in a handcart produced roughly the same amount of calories, and when accompanied by a caddy, 621 calories were burned. Even driving a cart while playing nine holes burned an average of 411 calories. Swinging a golf club 100 times, which the average golfer would likely do with practice swings, consumes a significant amount of energy.

Calorie expenditure would likely double over 18 holes if a player normally zigzagged over fairways chasing misdirected shots. There have been follow-up studies to the research done by Wolkodoff, who said his results had been shown to be accurate.

“Golf isn’t the same exercise as running or an elliptical, but it has an appeal as part of a health routine,” says Wolkodoff, who holds a PhD. in physiology and has coached a wide variety of professional athletes, said this month. “People should be consuming 2,500 to 3,000 calories a week. If people go to the gym three times a week and play golf twice a week, they can hit that number. “

The walking golfers who flocked to the game over the past two years are part of a cohort of new players who are more likely to be female and younger than 35 years old. A survey of nearly 25,000 golfers published last month by KemperSports, which manages 120 golf courses nationwide, found that players who were new to the game since last year’s pandemic were nearly 33 percent girls or women, which is nearly 10 Percent is above the industry average. More than 26 percent of the new golfers were 18 to 34 years old, around four percent above the national average.

“We missed the Millennials and Generation Z in golf,” said Steven Skinner, chief executive officer of Kemper Sports. “But they are into fitness and are more willing to throw a bag on their back and run. That was one of the reasons why they really jumped into the game. “

More than a quarter of junior golfers are also non-white, compared with just 6 percent of young golfers 21 years ago.

At Austin Hancock Golf Course, where rounds rose 82 percent last year and rose another 19 percent this year, Kevin Gomillion, who oversees golf operations, said the increases came after the city decided that To make space accessible only on foot.

“It’s one of our best moves,” said Gomillion. “The course went from fighting and upside down to solvents.”

The condition of the course has improved dramatically even without tire tracks on the fairways and heavily frequented areas. Slow play has become less of a problem as people tend to go about the same speed.

While hiking tours are in the snowball game, nobody in the golf industry expects motorized golf carts to disappear completely. On the one hand, many golfers need a cart for health reasons or because of a disability. In addition, the daily cart rental fees can bring substantial revenue to golf facilities (although many golf courses have started charging the same fee for walking or driving in a cart this year and have seen no decline in the game). On golf excursions, up to 80 players often tee off on the course at the same time, which is much easier to do with a cart. Still, prior to this year, nearly 70 percent of the rounds were played with a golf cart, according to the National Golf Foundation. But in a foundation survey last summer, 33 percent of golfers who play regularly said they walked more often. Similar numbers for this year have yet to be compiled.

Traditional golf carts that became popular in the 1960s are facing more modern competition. At the PGA Tour Superstore, a leading online golf retailer with 47 brick and mortar stores across the country, sales of easy-to-carry golf bags and lightweight, manoeuvrable handcarts rose by up to 210 percent in 2020. This year, a company spokeswoman said sales of women’s tote bags doubled and sales of junior tote bags rose 200 percent.

There are also new modes of transport for the golf course – the Phat Scooter, an electric two-wheeler, and four-wheeled GolfBoards – that challenge the standard electric or gas golf cart, though they still offer golfers a ride. Remote controlled robotic carts can also carry your bag.

“The game is changing what people once said golf wouldn’t do,” said Hainline. “But it’s different from a year ago and golf will be different in two years.”

At Atlanta’s Bobby Jones Golf Course, walking laps were typically banned from late afternoon or evening tee times during undesirable tee times. But spurred on by a busy season of walking tours during the pandemic when carts were banned, the course was only played before noon this year (carts and walking aids were allowed after noon). Revenue has increased and walking golfers now make up 74 percent of the rounds played.

“People see it as a two- or four-hour walk through the park,” said Brian Conley, the general manager of the course.

Winky Fowler regularly plays on Bobby-Jones-Platz and used to ride a cart. For the past 18 months, she and her circle of friends started running instead.

“We thought, ‘This is not bad, I like that,'” said Fowler. “It keeps you supple, the exercise is great, and your body feels fluid. We’ll go on like this; you just feel good. “

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